Thursday, February 19, 2009

The Presence of Greatness

{“Greatness or pre-eminence is a concept heavily dependent on a person's perspective and biases. The term can be used to emphasize perceived superiority of a person or thing.” -}

{"Most of the trouble in this world is caused by people who want to be important." T.S. Eliot}

I have been pondering the subject of greatness for a while now.
What does it mean to be great?
Why do people strive for greatness?
Assuming we have an answer to the first question, how do you know if you even possess the qualities necessary to attempt greatness?

Because greatness, much like beauty, often lies in the eyes of the beholder, this presents a whole new set of questions.
To whom do you wish to be perceived as great?
Are those who are the object of your desired proclamation of greatness, also deemed great in other’s eyes? Or just yours?
What are you hoping to achieve when you have successfully acquired the label of “greatness” to your societal resume?

I think everybody wants to be great in some way. Most people strive to be great in at least one area—to look great, feel great, be great at their job, or work at a certain characteristic until the word in question can be applied to it as well—great listener, great servant, great teacher, great artist, great musician, etc. We even apply the word to temporary items like “that piece of cake was so great”, or “they have great coffee—the best”.
What is so appealing about the word GREAT? At some point in history this word has been applied to people in the human race in such a way that gives us a longing to also be placed in a category with a similar form of recognition. What people come to mind when you think of the word great? Martin Luther King? Abraham Lincoln? Rosa Parks? Albert Einstein? George Washington? Alexander the GREAT? Brad Pitt? HAHA. Jk…he and I are going to have words one day. With the exclusion of the last one, these people (according to my yahoo search) are all considered great people in history in some way-Inventors, presidents, those who stood up for rights, and those who just seemed to encumber the word great for nearly it’s entire meaning. (And if you are a large Brad Pitt fan, I must clarify that I, myself, am not saying that he isn’t great by someone else’s standards--movie critics? Angelina?—lol I’m stopping. He just doesn’t fit for this post….but no hard feelings. ☺ )

So what would the definition of greatness be as it pertains to each individual and their ability to achieve the essence of it, without seeking to contort themselves into something or somebody that they weren’t created to be, just to win the label of such among a group of peers or those whose opinions they desire?
In my pondering this question over the last few weeks, I have come to several conclusions. In the presence of greatness, you can't help but be inspired to be great yourself. Because greatness is not condemning or belittling, it doesn't call you out on your mistakes or try to embarrass you in front of your peers. Greatness doesn't try to one-up his friends, or intentionally make anyone jealous, because greatness understands that the very qualities that make it "great" are not natural in their mortal self, but are in fact gifted and meant to be shared for the purpose of inspiring, for building up, for expanding happiness, starting a revolution of sorts inside each individual heart. Those who are able to possess the quality of greatness do so while, in my opinion, also fully encompassing humility. Without the combined product of greatness AND humility, I would have to ask if a person who only grasped the first of those, indeed was wholly that, or if everything in his/her life that pointed to the manufacture of such a quality was lost in the absence of the second. I guess this depends on your definition of both greatness and humility, but I seem to think that without the latter, one could be perceived as somewhat of a gloat, only seeking the attention that his greatness produced rather than seeking to be great for a higher purpose and one that benefitted others above, or at least in addition to, himself.
So based on my opinions, if greatness and humility are equal parts of a whole, then the simple equation can be made that greatness=humility. In which case, there is no longer a need to struggle through history to find the best example of one such case. His name is Jesus.
I was reading some articles on Wikipedia about “great” and “heroic” men, and stumbled across an article by Thomas Carlyle. In one part of his work he was discussing a Thibeten people group and their particular beliefs about the divine and it’s relation to great men on earth. Here is a short excerpt that sort of sums up their idea:

[“They have their belief, these poor Thibet people,
 that Providence sends down always an Incarnation of Himself 
into every generation. At bottom some belief in a kind of 
Pope! At bottom still better, belief that there is a Greatest
 Man; that he is discoverable; that, once discovered, we ought 
to treat him with an obedience which knows no bounds! …the ‘discoverability’ is 
the only error here.”]
Well they were right about one thing. There is a Greatest Man, and He is discoverable. Where they have sadly missed out is in the “once [he is] discovered” part. Oh the many ways that even those of us who know Him, miss Him on a daily basis. But that is another day’s topic. Jesus is arguably the most accessible man on the planet, yet in our complicated and distracted minds, we make it appear as if He’s the farthest thing from us. The other interesting point that the Thibet people seem to be spot-on about is that this great man they deem discoverable, yet undiscovered in their minds, should be treated “with an obedience which knows no bounds!” They are unaware that the object of their affections already exist, yet they have a better understanding on how he is to be treated when found than most of us are able to grasp, and keep, as faithful followers of Him.

I pulled another quote from this same article that is as equally resounding to me:
[“One comfort is, that Great Men, taken up in any way, are 
profitable company. We cannot look, however imperfectly, 
upon a great man, without gaining something by him. He
 is the living light-fountain, which it is good and pleasant to
 be near. The light which enlightens, which has enlightened
 the darkness of the world; and this not as a kindled lamp
 only, but rather as a natural luminary shining by the gift of
 Heaven; a flowing light-fountain, as I say, of native original
 insight, of manhood and heroic nobleness; -- in whose
 radiance all souls feel that it is well with them.”]

Though Carlyle is speaking of great men throughout history (not intending to represent Christ in his explanation), I think you can see there is quite an exact depiction of our Savior’s essence described in what was he is suggesting these “great” mortal beings somehow possess. For, if looked upon with understanding eyes (be they literal or of the heart) one cannot dismiss the qualities of Christ that we indeed gain from if we allow ourselves to be influenced by Him, simply by being the presence of our heavenly Father.
“…He is the living light-fountain….good and pleasant…light which enlightens, which has enlightened the darkness of the world…natural luminary…gift of heaven…in whose radiance all souls feel that it is well with them.”

Let’s look back to some of our original questions:
What does it mean to be great?
Why do people strive for greatness?
Assuming we have an answer to the first question, how do you know if you even possess the qualities necessary to attempt greatness?

By worldly standards, there are all manner of opinions about what greatness is and represents and how we are to go about obtaining those qualities to achieve such a status. But for those of us who know Christ personally, maybe the longing inside us to be great is that of our spirit wanting to know and be connected more deeply to the light of Christ. To grow, to learn, to be drawn in closer to Him and told the secrets of heaven. We are urged by Paul in 1 Peter 2:12 as aliens and strangers in the world to live our lives in a way that others “may see your good deeds and glorify God”. Most of us have a natural, normal desire to be successful in worldly terms-in our human bodies-because everybody likes an accolade or a good pat on the back. And we should support and encourage each other in our attempts to grow as people in the world. The trick is to not let our normal desire to find acceptance, love, and praise in others, overshadow our very purposeful desire to be closer, know more deeply, and point others toward God. To continue being, as you’ve probably heard 100 times over, IN the world but not OF it. We have been blessed with gifts far exceeding what any of us deserve--gifts meant to edify the body as a whole unit, so the unit can work with one purpose. The better we each are at our gifts, the better the body works, and the better we are at accomplishing the work of God’s kingdom together. [“There is one body and one spirit—just as you were called to one hope when you were called—one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all.” Ephesians 4:4-6]

Feeling like you don’t possess what it takes to be great? If you are a child of God, we are told in scripture that when we receive Christ and are adopted into the family of God, we receive the power and the marking of the Holy Spirit who then lives in us [1 Corinthians 6:19, Ephesians 1:13]. And furthermore, unlike biblical times, God no longer dwells behind the walls of a temple building, but takes up residence in your heart [1 John 4:12,15-16, Ephesians 2:22]. In other words, you have 2/3 of the trinity inside of you. 2/3 OF THE TRINITY!!!! We are great because of what—WHO-- is in us. The mere presence of God in us deems us HOLY, WORTHY, and VALUABLE. But it is up to us to allow God to do His thing in us. Aka: get out of the way. Decrease. Seek humility in all things. Seek the character of Christ, who both fully human and fully divine, pointed others to the Father above all else. [“Since then, you have been raised with Christ, set your hearts on things above, where Christ is seated at the right hand of God. Set our minds on things above, not on earthly things.” Colossians 3:1-2]

If we wish to know Christ’s thoughts on greatness and being great, we need look no farther than the first gospel, Matthew.
[“At that time the disciples came to Jesus and asked, “Who is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven?...whoever humbles himself like this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven.” 18:1-4]

So here’s to humility. Putting others first. Learning how to be servants of the MOST HIGH God. [1 Peter 2:16] Embracing our greatness not because of who we are or what we’ve done, but because He who is in us is inherently great, and His very essence calls forth the same response of character out of us.
It is a blast loving Jesus with you.

{ok i can't leave without being honest and saying that this entire post about GREATNESS came to me while at a concert a few weeks ago. the artist would be CELINE DION. need i say more? :)}

web article: (Carlyle, Thomas. On Heroes, Hero-Worship and the Heroic in History, Fredrick A. Stokes & Brother, New York, 1888. p. 2.)